By Saurav Yadav 

A BBC documentary about Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s role in the 2002 sectarian riots has sparked controversy. The documentary examines Modi’s actions during the riots, which resulted in significant loss of life. This has led to heightened tensions, and recently, Indian tax officials raided BBC’s offices. The film has been contentious because it touches on a sensitive period in India’s history, questioning the actions and accountability of Modi during that time, which many supporters of Modi find objectionable.


The BBC documentary “India: the Modi Question” is a two-part series that aired in the UK in January. It examines tensions between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the country’s Muslim minority. Since Modi took office in 2014, his government, led by the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), has pursued policies perceived as Hindu-centric. Critics argue these policies discriminate against India’s 200 million Muslims and steer the country away from its secular foundations towards a right-wing religious nationalist agenda.

The first episode of the documentary revisits events from two decades ago when Modi was Chief Minister of Gujarat. In 2002, violence erupted after 60 Hindu pilgrims died in a train fire, sparking retaliatory attacks against Muslims across Gujarat. Over 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, lost their lives. Modi’s government at the time faced allegations of complicity for allegedly encouraging Hindu mobs and not intervening to stop the violence.

These accusations haunted Modi for years and led to a US visa ban due to concerns about his role in the violence. However, in 2012, a Special Investigation Team (SIT) appointed by India’s Supreme Court cleared Modi of complicity, citing insufficient evidence. This verdict was reaffirmed in 2022. Subsequently, Modi’s US visa ban was lifted, and he became Prime Minister in 2014.

The documentary has been controversial for reopening old wounds and revisiting allegations against Modi during a sensitive period in India’s recent history. It has reignited debates about Modi’s past and his government’s approach towards religious minorities in India, drawing both criticism and support from various quarters.


The documentary “India: the Modi Question” brought forth new material that has sparked considerable controversy. While the allegations surrounding Narendra Modi’s role in the 2002 Gujarat riots have been extensively covered in Indian media and documented in various books, the documentary unearthed a previously undisclosed UK government report from the time of the riots. This confidential report reportedly held Modi responsible for the violence and characterized the riots as exhibiting “hallmarks of ethnic cleansing.”

Moreover, the documentary featured a significant interview with Jack Straw, who was the UK foreign secretary during that period. In the interview, Straw made damning statements, alleging that Modi actively intervened by pulling back police forces and tacitly supporting Hindu extremists during the riots. According to Straw, this interference prevented the police from protecting both Hindus and Muslims, marking a severe case of political involvement in communal violence.

These revelations in the documentary provided fresh insight and stirred controversy, particularly among international audiences less familiar with Modi’s pre-prime ministerial tenure and the specifics of the Gujarat riots. The documentary’s airing brought renewed scrutiny to Modi’s political past and raised questions about its implications for his leadership and policies as India’s Prime Minister.


In response to the documentary “India: the Modi Question,” the Indian government reacted swiftly and strongly. During a weekly press conference by the foreign ministry, a spokesperson criticized the documentary, alleging it displayed bias, lack of objectivity, and a colonial mindset. The government accused the BBC of pursuing an agenda against the Indian government.

Kanchan Gupta, an advisor to the ministry of information and broadcasting, issued a more vehement condemnation, describing the documentary as “propaganda and anti-India garbage, disguised as documentary.”

These responses underscored the government’s stance of vehemently rejecting the allegations and criticisms presented in the documentary. They portrayed the documentary as an attempt to tarnish India’s image and discredit the government, rather than an objective analysis of historical events.

Following the government’s invocation of emergency laws to prohibit the sharing of links and clips from the documentary “India: the Modi Question” online, platforms like YouTube and Twitter complied, marking a significant instance of censorship. This move, though not unprecedented in recent times for content critical of the government, gained particular attention due to the documentary’s high profile.

Many BJP politicians criticized the BBC, alleging it harbored an anti-Modi agenda by revisiting allegations from two decades ago that had been dismissed by the courts. Despite calls, including a petition to the supreme court seeking a ban on BBC operations in India, the judiciary dismissed these efforts.

In response to perceived censorship, student groups across India organized screenings of the documentary. However, they faced challenges including arrests, violence instigated by rightwing groups, and accusations of treason.

The BBC has staunchly defended the documentary, asserting it was rigorously researched and adhered to the highest editorial standards. This stance underscores the BBC’s commitment to journalistic integrity amid the controversy and censorship attempts surrounding its portrayal of historical events involving Prime Minister Modi.


The outcry from the Indian government over the BBC documentary “India: the Modi Question” stems from several critical factors. Firstly, the timing of the documentary’s release is sensitive as India positions itself on the global stage, currently hosting the G20 and promoting its image as a democratic powerhouse. Prime Minister Modi’s international stature and his engagements with Western powers on geopolitical and economic issues are crucial for India’s diplomatic strategies and domestic popularity.

However, the documentary’s focus on alleged past atrocities and ongoing discrimination against minorities has sparked concerns. It accuses the Indian government of human rights abuses and challenges the narrative of India’s secular democracy. This portrayal could potentially strain India’s relationships with the US, UK, and Europe, which have increasingly courted Modi for strategic alliances amid global shifts.

Critics in India argue that Western powers, historically uncomfortable with India’s rise, may exploit these allegations to undermine its international standing. With India’s general election approaching next year, the government faces heightened scrutiny and political challenges. Despite Modi’s significant popularity, especially among the Hindu majority, the documentary raises contentious issues that could influence public opinion and international perceptions.

Moreover, the Modi government has a reputation for being sensitive to international criticism, evidenced by its reactions to figures like climate activist Greta Thunberg and singer Rihanna, who voiced support for Indian farmers’ protests. Such responses reflect the government’s assertive stance against perceived external interference in domestic affairs.

In summary, the documentary’s timing, its portrayal of sensitive issues, and the Modi government’s robust response underscore broader geopolitical implications and domestic political sensitivities, shaping India’s international image and diplomatic engagements.


The implications for the BBC following the release of the documentary “India: the Modi Question” have been significant, marked by both criticism and official actions from the Indian government.

Pro-government media outlets and right-wing social media in India launched attacks against the BBC, accusing it of bias in its portrayal of Prime Minister Modi and his government’s policies. Despite receiving positive reception in the UK, with publications like The Guardian praising it as a “sobering look at Narendra Modi’s treatment of India’s Muslims,” the documentary faced scrutiny and criticism from Indian politicians and public figures supportive of Modi.

Conservative MP Bob Blackman labeled the documentary a “hatchet job,” while House of Lords member Rami Ranger wrote a complaint to the BBC, insinuating bias from Pakistani-origin staff involved in the film’s production. Labour MP Chris Elmore condemned Ranger’s comments as racially charged and unacceptable pressure on the BBC.

In a move widely perceived as retaliatory, Indian tax officials raided the BBC offices in Mumbai and New Delhi, citing a “survey” related to alleged tax evasion. This action involved seizing phones and laptops and sealing the offices during the investigation. The BBC responded with a brief statement affirming cooperation with the authorities.

Human rights organizations and press advocacy groups strongly condemned the raids, viewing them as an attempt to intimidate and silence critical journalism. Beh Lih Yi, Asia coordinator of the Committee to Protect Journalists, criticized the Indian authorities, urging them to cease harassment of BBC employees and uphold the values of press freedom in a democratic society.

Overall, the BBC has faced challenges ranging from accusations of bias to official actions targeting its operations in India, highlighting broader concerns over media freedom and government response to critical reporting in the country.


The BBC documentary “India: the Modi Question” has ignited a firestorm of controversy and consequences, reflecting deep-seated tensions between journalistic scrutiny and governmental sensitivity in India. At its core, the documentary reopens wounds from the 2002 Gujarat riots, questioning Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s actions during that turbulent period and examining broader implications for India’s secular democracy and treatment of minorities.

The documentary’s revelations, including a previously undisclosed UK government report and damning statements from former UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, have intensified international scrutiny of Modi’s past and his government’s policies. These revelations challenge Modi’s narrative of development and inclusive governance, especially as India asserts its global influence amid hosting the G20 and forging strategic alliances with Western powers.

The Indian government’s response has been swift and forceful, labeling the documentary as biased and reflective of a colonial mindset. This reaction culminated in unprecedented actions, such as invoking emergency laws to block online content related to the documentary and conducting tax raids on BBC offices—a move widely condemned as an attack on press freedom.

Critics within India and abroad have accused the government of using heavy-handed tactics to suppress dissent and stifle critical journalism. The raids on BBC offices drew sharp rebukes from human rights organizations, underscoring concerns over shrinking press freedoms in the world’s largest democracy.

Despite the controversy and pressures faced, the BBC has stood by its documentary, asserting its adherence to rigorous journalistic standards. The fallout from this episode has not only strained India-UK relations but also highlighted broader implications for media freedom and international perceptions of India’s democratic credentials.

As India heads towards a pivotal general election, the documentary’s impact on public opinion and diplomatic engagements remains uncertain. It underscores the delicate balance between governmental authority and media independence in shaping narratives of accountability and human rights—a balance crucial for the future of India’s democratic fabric.

FAQ – BBC Documentary “India: The Modi Question”

1. What is the BBC documentary “India: The Modi Question” about?

The BBC documentary is a two-part series that explores the tensions between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the country’s Muslim minority. It revisits Modi’s tenure as Chief Minister of Gujarat during the 2002 sectarian riots, examining allegations of his role in the violence and the broader implications for India’s secular democracy.

2. What new revelations does the documentary uncover?

The documentary unearthed a previously undisclosed UK government report from the time of the Gujarat riots, holding Modi responsible for the violence and describing it as exhibiting “hallmarks of ethnic cleansing.” It also featured an interview with former UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who alleged that Modi interfered in the riots by not adequately deploying police to protect both Hindus and Muslims.

3. How has the Indian government reacted to the documentary?

The Indian government reacted strongly, criticizing the documentary as biased and displaying a colonial mindset. Emergency laws were invoked to block online content related to the documentary, and tax raids were conducted on BBC offices, which many viewed as retaliatory. There were also calls from some BJP politicians to ban BBC operations in India, although these efforts were dismissed by the judiciary.

4. Why has the documentary sparked such controversy?

The documentary’s focus on sensitive historical events and allegations against Prime Minister Modi during a critical period in India’s recent history has drawn both criticism and support. It has reignited debates about Modi’s past actions and his government’s policies towards religious minorities, impacting India’s domestic politics and international relations.

5. What consequences has the BBC faced as a result of airing the documentary?

The BBC has faced accusations of bias from pro-government media outlets in India and criticism from politicians supportive of Modi. Additionally, tax raids on BBC offices have been condemned by human rights organizations as attempts to suppress critical journalism. Despite challenges, the BBC has defended the documentary’s integrity and adherence to journalistic standards.

6. What are the broader implications of this controversy?

The controversy underscores broader issues of press freedom and governmental response to critical reporting in India. It raises concerns about censorship and the treatment of journalists investigating sensitive topics. Internationally, it has implications for India’s image as a democratic nation and its diplomatic engagements, especially as it positions itself on the global stage.

7. How has the BBC responded to the backlash?

The BBC has stood by the documentary, asserting it was rigorously researched and upheld the highest editorial standards. It continues to defend its role in presenting critical perspectives on significant historical events, despite facing pressures and challenges in India.

8. What impact could this documentary have on India’s upcoming general election?

The documentary’s release ahead of India’s general election has brought issues of accountability and governance under scrutiny. While Modi remains popular among many voters, especially the Hindu majority, the documentary could influence public opinion and perceptions domestically and internationally, shaping the discourse leading up to the elections.

9. What role has international opinion played in this controversy?

International reactions to the documentary have varied, with human rights organizations and press freedom advocates criticizing India’s response. The controversy has highlighted concerns over the treatment of journalists and media freedom in India, drawing attention to broader implications for democratic principles and governance.

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